Last week I wrote about presence with our kids. Scripture and social science agree that the key to raising an emotionally healthy child is attunement to our children. Attunement is not just being aware of a child’s physical needs, but being a student of their whole self: paying attention to their needs, wants, personalities, fears, desires, moods, and insecurities. I like to say it this way: our children are people to be discovered, not problems to solve. When we consistently pursue intuitive knowledge of our children, we can “train them up in the way they should go.” (Proverbs 22:6)
To be this kind of parent is, frankly, exhausting sometimes. It requires us to be mature and self-controlled, to steward our energies carefully, and to care for ourselves well. There are a million things that interfere with our ability to be present with our kids on a daily basis – from our to-do lists to the constant media pull on our attentions, to financial hardships and illness. Our energy is constantly being drained.
One thing that shouldn’t drain us? Our friendships.
Don’t get me wrong: authentic friendship – the kind I advocate for in my book and in this blog – takes a sacrifice of time and energy. But ultimately, healthy friendships will be a net-positive, by a long shot! Friendships are meant to be mutual, not missional. We help, rescue and counsel each other. All people need these kinds of friendships, but I’m writing specifically to moms this month, so that you can consider if your friendships support you as a parent.
Here's a short list to evaluate them!
A friend will help you be a present mom if…
1. You enjoy her company and delight in her as a person. Friends enrich our lives by exposing us to new experiences and sharing their joy. My besties bring so much richness to my life through their interests and my family also benefits from what they teach me: Gardening, reading, investing in education, exploring new music, taking mission trips. One of my friends was a competitive figure skater in her youth and has recently gotten back onto the ice to compete; I’m so impressed with her, and she may finally get me to understand the difference between a triple Lutz and a triple toe loop by the next Olympics.
2. She shows empathy and can help you process problems. Being present for and with our kids is impossible when we get stuck inside our heads. Having someone to process struggles large and small is critical.
3. She celebrates your wins, your kids’ wins, and your big God moments. Celebrating together multiples joy; it is also a part of empathy. A friend who can celebrate with you is more likely to be able to support you in sorrow.
4. She accepts your “no.” She can handle when you don’t pick up the phone, respond to a text right away or turn down a play date. She can even handle an occasional cancellation. Family life is unpredictable, so flexibility is key. Handling someone’s “no” is a sign of maturity and security. Just don’t take advantage of her understanding and flake out on plans regularly.
5. She has other friends. And you should, too. We aren’t meant to have a husband and the friend equivalent of a wife, although you know there are times I have craved that. A friend with multiple healthy connections brings a wealthy of wisdom to you, and doesn’t expect you to have everything she needs.
And now for the other side.
A friend will drain your energy and drag you away from being present if…
1. She’s negative. If your conversations are dominated by what your friend can’t stand or is irritated by – whether it’s her neighbors or the news – she may be doing what my sponsor calls “handing you her fiery bag of poop.” She feels better, having unloaded, and you’re left holding the bag of negativity. Processing problems together means working toward solutions, not just complaining. Constant negativity makes it harder for you to be present to the joys of your life, and holding someone else’s bag isn’t your job.
2. She creates chaos. We all go through hard seasons and circumstances outside our control. But if you have a friend who has been in one hard season after another for years, consider if she might be the common denominator. This may sound harsh, but some people are drawn to drama, conflict and chaos, and some even create it. The Bible actually calls this foolishness, and the Proverbs command us not to walk closely with fools.
3. She’s competitive. Everyone struggles with envy occasionally. A good friend learns to process that emotion, and find joy over your success. Your special moments will be diminished if you try to share them with a competitive person.
4. She gossips about your mutual friends and/or their kids. Women talk about their friends with other people; it’s inevitable and sometimes even necessary when we need feedback about a friendship. But healthy friends speak to their husbands or a non-mutual friend when they need input. If your friend is regularly dishing on what your friends or your kids’ classmates are doing – with a negative spin – assume she is also sharing stories about you that may sabotage your other friendships.
5. She can’t handle separation or differentiation. An immature friend can’t accept when you have a difference of opinion about politics or parenting, and will may tirelessly try to bring you to her side, or make not-so-subtle comments about your choices. She will also feel and/or express a sense of abandonment when you say “no” to time together. Have compassion for her; she may have grown up in an enmeshed family system in which separation of thought or time apart feels like abandonment. But if her resistance to your autonomy persists, you may have to take a concrete step back from the relationship; you can’t sacrifice your family’s peace to make her feel better – and it won’t work, ultimately.
If you have friends with the first five categories, thank God, and them. Forward them this blog and tell them you appreciate all they do and are.
If you have a friend who fits into two or three of the bottom five qualities, you have some decisions to make. I invite you to click here to download a bonus chapter of All My Friends Have Issues, which didn’t make the first printing, but is available on the audiobook. Entitled “Giving Up the Ghost,” it’s a guide to stepping back from friendships that are no longer healthy, without resorting to ghosting.